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April 8, 2013

One more test

ATLANTA — Virginia Commonwealth’s press.

Syracuse’s zone.

Michigan has handled every test so far. Now it’s time for the final exam — a Louisville team that is the NCAA tournament’s top overall seed.

Michigan is trying for its first national title since 1989, and Monday night will be its first appearance in the championship game since 1993, when the Fab Five lost to North Carolina. The last two decades have been difficult for the Wolverines, but after sanctions and mediocrity, they’re back in the spotlight at college basketball’s signature event.

Coach John Beilein’s team is plenty talented, but point guard Trey Burke and the Wolverines have reached this moment because of their smarts — and their ability to adjust quickly to new challenges.

“It means a lot to Michigan,” Burke said. “This program hasn’t been this far in two decades, so just to be back in this situation definitely means the world to alumni and it means the world to us. That’s been our No. 1 goal since Day One.”

It was clear from the start that this could be a special team. Led by Burke, the Wolverines won their first 16 games and were eventually ranked No. 1 in the nation at the start of February.

But as Beilein stressed over and over, it was still a young team. Burke, the consensus national player of the year, is a sophomore. Guard Tim Hardaway Jr. is a junior, but Michigan relies a lot on freshmen Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas.

When the NCAA tournament began, the Wolverines still had a lot to prove — but this team’s mental strength should not be underestimated.

On the first weekend of the tournament, Michigan faced VCU in the round of 32. After only a day to prepare for the Rams’ chaotic full-court press, the Wolverines breezed to a 25-point win.

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